Saturday, December 3, 2016

Getting to Zero

Hi everyone.  Once again I am a little late to post - sorry for that!  This entry refers to the recent World AIDS Day, marked every December 1st by patients, caregivers, friends, families, and stakeholders all around the world.  I found a nice article out of the Daily News about a call for voluntary testing to commemorate the day in Tanzania.  The title of this blog "Getting to Zero" refers to the goal of zero deaths and zero new infections.

Reminds me of my pre-Toa days when I worked for another NGO called Visions in Action and spent much more time on HIV-related initiatives, including a weekend of testing in Himo one year, about 45minutes outside of Moshi.  I really cannot believe I did that, given my total hypochondria, but looking back, I'm so glad I did.  We worked in conjunction with two other local NGOs in Moshi to: raise tents and put in dividers for privacy; provide pre- and post-test counseling; rapid test hundreds of villagers in a safe and sanitary way; and even hold a little music festival and food court to entertain people while they were waiting.  By providing a secure and intimate environment in which people could get tested as well as counseled by local doctors and nurses, we were able to allay their fears and encourage them to know their status.

So, I guess this World AIDS Day (Thursday, December 1, 2016) was a bit of a #throwbackthursday for me.  Here's hoping a lot of people will take action and get tested soon!

Tanzanians yesterday joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World AIDS Day, with people urged to undertake voluntary testing to avert further spreading of the deadly disease.

The Tanzania Association of Employers (ATE) asked all employers in the country to abide by the HIV/AIDS policy as well as providing education to employees.

"It should be well-known that people spend more time at work than anywhere, therefore if enough education is not provided, several issues that subject them to risk are likely to occur," said ATE's HIV/AIDS coordinator, Ms. Tumaini Kiyola.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it encourages self-testing to improve access to and uptake of HIV/AIDS diagnosis.

The WHO statement said that well-utilized HIV/AIDS self-testing can open the door for people to know their HIV status and find out how to get treatment and access prevention services.  "HIV/AIDS self-testing means people can use oral fluid or blood finger-pricks to discover their status in a private and convenient setting.  Results are ready within 20 minutes or less," WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, was quoted by as saying.

After self-testing, people with positive results are advised to seek confirmatory tests at health clinics.  WHO recommends they receive information and links to counseling as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment, and care services.

As the nation marks the World AIDS Day today, there are almost 2 million new HIV infections worldwide every year and 1 million people die from the disease annually.  WHO officials estimate about 40 percent of those with HIV (14 million people) are unaware that they are infected.

Tanzania has about 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS.  However, only 830,000 of these are on ARVs.  About 36 million people around the world are currently infected with HIV.

According to the Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children, Ms. Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania needs, USD 382 million (about TSH 830 billion) until December, 2017 to fund its ambitious plan of putting over 1.4 million people living with HIV on life-long ARVs regardless of their CD4 count.

Yesterday, ATE, as the private sector focal point on HIV response, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Swedish Workplace HIV/AIDS Program (SWHAP), marked the day at the Security Group Africa (SGA) Head Office in Mbezi Beach, Dar es Salaam.

In his remarks read on his behalf by Ms. Kiyola, ATE Executive Director, Dr. Aggrey Mlimuka, said his association was eyeing for zero deaths as well as zero new infections.

"The main objective of the world is to eliminate the disease by 2030, but we cannot attain this achievement if people are not taking precaution measures for self-testing in order to identify the status of their health," he said.

Dr. Mlimuka said HIV/AIDS was still a big problem as it is in other countries in the continent and that its effects were still a thorny issue, something that affects the country's development.

"Although the rate at which the disease has been affecting people has consistently been dwindling, there are regions like Dar es Salaam where HIV/AIDS prevalence is still high," he added.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


So, this blog post is a little late, but they say "better late than never" so here goes....

This past Thursday, we here in America celebrated Thanksgiving, a holiday which (despite its problematic historical significance) is a much beloved day by families and friends across our fifty states.  As written in the International Business Times, "Thanksgiving is a day to count one's blessings, reconnect with friends and relatives, and gorge on traditional turkey day fare while trying to avoid popping any seams.  Just like the first Thanksgiving feast, when New Englanders and Native Americans came together to share a meal, American families across the country will join around the dinner table to celebrate what was historically the end of the harvest season."

To apply this sentiment to The Toa Nafasi Project, we can say that the year up until now has been the planting of the crops, the tilling of the fields, and now finally, we enjoy the fruits of our labor: the bounty of the harvest.  On behalf of myself and everyone on Team Toa from Moshi, Arusha, and Dar es Salaam to Washington DC, New York City, and Boston, and points far beyond, we want to take this opportunity to give thanks for the bounty of 2016.

Indeed, we all worked hard - me and Heidi on operations, Gasto on facilitation, both boards with advice and guidance, Hyasinta and the teachers in school, our referral partners who provided wonderful care to our schoolchildren, and of course, those children themselves, who worked hard not only to succeed in Grade One but to move on to Grade Two with triumphant exuberance.

We are thankful for these successes, to be sure, but we know well that they could not have been achieved without YOU, our blog readers and email recipients, our Twitter followers and Facebook friends, and most of all, our donors.  Your support cannot be measured.  That you care, that you give, that you love - it means the world.  Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, everybody!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Party in the USA

Hi everyone, it continues to be a busy time for The Toa Nafasi Project.  Earlier this week, we held our annual "friendraiser" at my parents' home in Washington DC.  Though we got a good response from our RSVPs, the turnout was rather intimate as many apologetic cancellations came in at the last minute.  I'm blaming it on - like everything else - Donald Trump, and the country's collective depression (minus the nincumpoops who voted for him).
Nevertheless, despite the small, cozy crowd, it was also an engaged and enthusiastic one with a lively Q&A after my short slide show, the reveal of our new Toa video (©Marytza Leiva), and some words from the members of the U.S. Board of Directors.  Many of the guests had already contributed so this was a nice time for them to see where their funds went and to ask questions about the Project.  Thanks to Heidi's prep work, especially on the budget, I was able to answer questions easily and proficiently.  It was a smoother performance than ever before!
I'm now back in New York, working away on donor thanks, email blasts, and website content.  It's a lot of work, but Heidi has been on-point, teaming up with me for this aspect of the work while Gasto and Hyasinta (and the teaching staff!) as well as our TZ Board of Directors hold down the fort at "home."  I am assured all is well in Moshi and we are on track for a productive and successful new year.
To that end, I leave you now with a few photos from the party.  You'll notice a common theme: booze.  Again, with the onset of the Trumpster, alcohol intake is sadly on the rise....  Sigh....
Barbara Finkelstein and Romana Li, members of the U.S. Board.

Mom and Dad.  He had just come from Tax Club, at which someone proposed the abolition of the IRS.  Needless to say, he was rather worked up....

The spread.  Waaaays too much food.  We're Jews....

Guests milling about.

Guests enraptured and impressed by Team Toa and our amazing Project!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Reliving the #Giving - Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Hi everyone, and hope all are well.  I'm writing today to remind you all it's that time of year again....  The holidays are nearly here, and along with spending time with family and friends, and over-extending our waistbands and wallets, it's also a good time to remember those less fortunate than ourselves and dedicate a moment to "giving back."

This year, The Toa Nafasi Project is hosting another of our annual "friendraisers" next week in Washington, DC as well as launching a bit more robust of a campaign for end-of-year donations.  Because of our recent expansion, and plans for further expansion, we recognize our growing needs require a similarly growing budget.

So, you'll be hearing from us on this blog and various social media platforms, and in your inboxes and mailboxes, for the next couple weeks as we wind down 2016 and prepare to usher in 2017.

As always, we so appreciate the support and friendship of our loyal donors and we want to take this time to say THANK YOU as well.  Because of you, Toa triumphs on and slow-learning kids in Kilimanjaro are getting the attention they need to succeed.  Asante sana - Thank you very much.

Below, please find a a bit of info on #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration, from the official #GivingTuesday website.  It is a great way (and day!) to kick off the end-of-year giving season.


Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.

Created by the team at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y—a cultural center in New York City that, since 1874, has been bringing people together around the values of service and giving back—#GivingTuesday connects diverse groups of individuals, communities, and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving.  A team of influencers and founding partners joined forces, collaborating across sectors, offering expertise and working tirelessly, to launch #GivingTuesday and have continued to shape, grow, and strengthen the movement.  Globally, #GivingTuesday has engaged more than 30,000 organizations worldwide.

#GivingTuesday harnesses the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities; it provides a platform for them to encourage the donation of time, resources, and talents to address local challenges.  It also brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners—nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses, and corporations, as well as families and individuals—to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.

As a global movement, #GivingTuesday unites countries around the world by sharing our capacity to care for and empower one another.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Africa on Trump

In shock.


Please read below about various African presidents' reactions to the Trump victory, as reported by Quartz Africa.  I just gotta say, there's a lotta shade being thrown these days.  The outlook definitely seems uncertain....

Africa's populists and strongmen are some of the first to welcome a Trump presidency

While the world continues to react to the shocking reality of a Donald Trump presidency, some African leaders have rushed to congratulate the new president-elect.  Although it's not unusual for global leaders to congratulate newly elected presidents, a look at the first African presidents who have congratulated Trump reveals an uncomfortable theme.

Mr. @realDonaldTrump, on behalf of the people of Burundi, we warmly congratulate you.  Your Victory is the Victory of all Americans. 

Burundi's president, Pierre Nkurunziza, became an international pariah after staging a controversial constitutional amendment last year to win a third term in office.  Nkurunziza's insistence on a third term did not soften in the face of violence and a near-total breakdown of the country's economy. 

Egypt's President Sisi is the first World leaders to personally call and congratulate President-Elect Trump

Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the first world leader to congratulate Trump according to some accounts, is a military dictator bent on suppressing dissidents and regulating public life.  Sisi came into power in 2014 on the back of a military coup against Egypt's first democratically-elected president.  Sisi's coup involved a crackdown on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in which over 1,000 people were killed. 

President Jacob Zuma has on behalf of the Gov & people of congratulated President-elect @realDonaldTrump on his victory.

South Africa's embattled president, Jacob Zuma, who is facing yet another career-threatening scandal, was also among the first to congratulate Trump.  For much of his time in office, Zuma's presidency has been bogged by corruption scandals. Last week, a public prosecutor report uncovered large-scale corruption in the government.

Congratulation President-Elect Donald Trump and the People of America. Tanzanians and I assure you of continued friendship and cooperation.

Tanzania's John Magufuli, initially commended for his focus on government prudence and accountability when he was elected last year, has seen his popularity diminish due to "undemocratic actions" like banning opposition rallies.  Under Magufuli, Tanzania has stepped up policing of public opinion, particularly on social media, with criticisms of government and political dissent defined as cybercrimes under a new controversial law.  In September, five Tanzanians were charged with criticizing the president on social media.

Congratulations to @realDonaldTrump for a well earned victory.Looking fwd to continued good relationship w/ United States&new administration

Rwanda's Paul Kagame, while overseeing years of economic growth and prosperity for his country, is another polarizing figure.  His status as one of the continent's most forward-thinking, progressive leaders has been dented by claims of a stronghold on free press and for holding a controversial, albeit popular, referendum that would allow him to stay in power until 2034.

I congratulate @realDonaldTrump upon his election as USA president. I look forward to working with him like I've done with his predecessors.

Uganda's Yoweri Museveni has been in office longer than most presidents anywhere in the world.  Put another way: Donald Trump is set to become the sixth president America has had since Museveni took power through a rebellion in 1986.

Congratulations to Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, ally of Gabon
Only two months ago, Bongo was reelected to a second term after a disputed election which saw him win by a slim margin of 6,000 votes.  With a number of irregularities observed during the elections (voter turnout was a staggering 99.9%), EU observers said the election lacked transparency.  With Bongo's rival Jean Ping disputing the result, violence broke out in the oil-rich Central African country.  In response, Bongo's government imposed an internet curfew and cracked down on the media.

Even before the elections, Zimbabwe's longtime president Robert Mugabe had warmed up to the idea of a Trump presidency.  In a July meeting with US lawmakers, Mugabe reportedly suggested Zimbabwe's relations with America would improve under a Trump presidency.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Echoing Green

Hello, my good people, and many salaams from the Berkshires as I continue my tour of the Eastern seaboard.  I'm currently in Lenox, Massachusetts enjoying a bit of R&R (and working my bum off, of course, who are we kidding?!) after the frenzy of preparing and submitting Toa Nafasi's application for an Echoing Green Fellowship earlier in the week.

Echoing Green is an nonprofit organization that provides funding for "social innovation."  In their own words: 

Echoing Green Fellows are the innovators, instigators, pioneers, and rebels that reject the status quo and drive positive social change all over the world.  While their work, their geographies, and even their approaches may be as varied as the problems they are working to solve, their common passion and commitment form the base of this robust, active community of leaders.  Our social entrepreneurship Fellows work on six continents, on issues such as: Economic Development; Education; Environmental Sustainability; Health; Justice and Human Rights; Hunger and Poverty Alleviation; and, Racial and Gender Equality.

Echoing Green will provide more than $4.6 million in unrestricted seed-stage funding and strategic foundational support this year to emerging leaders working to bring about positive social change.  Over the past three decades, our total investment is over $40 million to more than 700 world-class leaders.

Fellows include the founders of Teach For America, City Year, One Acre Fund, and SKS Microfinance, as well the First Lady of the United States, a mayor of Providence, RI, and the director of the largest environmental law center in the U.S. 

So, with the First Lady and Teach For America as Fellow role models, you can see how we at Toa Nafasi have our work cut out for us!

Don't want to divulge much more about our application as it's early days yet and there's much more work to be done, but here's a small portion from the Short Answer round regarding my "passion" for your delectation.

Be well, folks, and another blog post next week!


I came to development work late in my professional life.  Having spent ten years in book publishing, it seemed my career track was set.  But my time as a volunteer nursery school teacher in Tanzania brought me to a different world, one in which benefits I took for granted were not even thinkable.  I am not a Toa kid.  I have always been a quick learner and a fast reader.  I have always had opportunities, educational and otherwise, at my disposal.  When I saw Tanzanian children struggling with kindergarten lessons with no support from (and in some cases actually fearing!) their teachers, I felt very lucky.  And feeling lucky motivated me to give back.  Since then, I have spent nearly ten years in Tanzania.  I have strong personal as well as professional reasons for wanting to see the Project succeed.  I believe that given the opportunity, thousands of public primary schoolchildren can do better than they currently are, or even than what's expected of them.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Bell Curve

Hi everybody, hope all is well.  We at Team Toa are still super-busy this week, so I am posting an article from the nonprofit news organization, Chalkbeat, that is devoted to coverage of our American education system.  This piece titled "When Is a Student 'Gifted' or 'Disabled'?  A New Study Shows Racial Bias Plays a Role in Deciding" is a nice coda to the article I posted in September's "Talented Tenth" blog entry,  Check it out!


Racial bias among educators may play a larger role than previously understood in deciding whether students are referred for special education or gifted programs, according to new research from NYU.

The study, the first of its kind to show a direct link between teacher bias and referrals for special services, found stark differences in how teachers classify students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds showing identical signs of disability or giftedness.

Teachers were more likely to see academic shortfalls as disabilities among white students, even when students of color demonstrated the same deficits.  They tended to see these struggles as "problems to fix," the study explains, if students were white.  And students of color were more likely be referred for special-education testing when they had emotional or behavioral issues compared with identical white peers — and were less likely to be identified as gifted.

Those findings may help inform a debate that has divided researchers: Is special education racist if students of color tend to represent a greater share of its population?  Or do problems associated with poverty that can affect cognitive development (lead exposure, for instance) mean that students of color might actually be underrepresented in special education settings?

The study, which is set to appear in the journal Social Science Research, doesn't resolve that debate.  But it does offer evidence that bias plays a role in both over- and under-classifying students for certain services.

"The issue is that racism affects all of us, and teachers are in positions of power," said Rachel Fish, the study's author and a professor at New York University's Steinhardt School.

Educators are an important focus because they are responsible for about 75 percent of all referrals for gifted or special ed programs, according to the report.  And in the vast majority of cases, the evaluation process confirms a teacher's suspicion.

Fish was able to isolate a student's race as a deciding factor by giving 70 third- and fourth-grade teachers culled from an unnamed large, northeastern city a survey that described identical behaviors, but signaled different racial identities.  Teachers were randomly assigned to read profiles of fictional male students who showed signs of academic challenges, behavioral/emotional deficits, or giftedness.  The only thing that changed was their name: Jacob, Carlos, or Demetrius.

The teachers who participated were more likely to see academic deficits in white students as "medicalized problems to fix," while black and Latino students with the same deficits were seen as ordinary.  The implication, according to the study, is that "low academic performance is normal for [students of color], and not a problem to remediate."

And in terms of behavioral challenges, black and Latino students' actions were "seen as more aggressive and problematic than misbehavior by white boys."

That could have troubling implications for equal access to appropriate education services because students who are classified as having behavioral issues tend to be treated differently.

"If you're labeled with an emotional behavior disorder, you're likely going to be excluded from the general education classroom and it's likely you'll be greatly stigmatized," Fish said in an interview.  While there isn't much conclusive research on how students' classifications affect them down the road, there is evidence that being labeled with a behavioral disorder is associated with future incarceration.

The study also found that bias helped determine whether students were considered gifted: Teachers evaluated white students' skills more favorably than their black and Latino peers.

The picture is slightly more complicated for English learners.  Teachers tended to refer a student with mild academic challenges for special education services if he was a white ELL student, as opposed to a black or Latino ELL peer.  They were more likely to perceive Latino boys as having behavioral issues if they were non-native English speakers.   But they were less likely to perceive white ELL boys as having behavior problems than their white non-ELL peers, according to the study.

Many of these problems are evident in New York City, where students of color are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, and white students often face less severe behavioral interventions.

Still, Fish acknowledges that the study has some limitations and shouldn't be overgeneralized.  Because it relies on a small group of teachers evaluating fictional students, it's hard to claim that her findings apply in real situations across the board.

But Celia Oyler, a professor at Teachers College who studies inclusive education, said that while previous research has shown racial disparities in gifted and special education, this study is among the first to describe one mechanism of how that sorting happens.

"We don't really have very good ways to get at implicit bias," she said.  "And this is a really, really good way."

Still, like Fish, Oyler is careful to point out that the findings don't suggest teachers should be branded as racists; there are larger institutional factors at play that enable implicit bias.

"What is wrong with our system that we continue to sort and label kids at both ends of the imagined bell curve," she asks, "and then give them different kinds of educational opportunities based on what we perceive them to be?"